Researching the politics of development



‘Holding against the tide’: Exploring the role of bureaucratic pockets of effectiveness in Kenya

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Working paper 168

Matthew Tyce

This paper explores the factors that have influenced the performance of the Central Bank of Kenya, Kenya Revenue Authority and National Treasury since the 1990s, all of which were identified as potential examples of ‘pockets of effectiveness’ in the Kenyan context. The paper finds that Kenya’s ‘dispersed’ political settlement (which moved from a ‘narrow’ to ‘broad’ social foundation during the paper’s period of analysis) creates an environment that is generally not conducive to concerted, longer-term investments in state capacity, as ruling elites tend to be preoccupied with shorter-term efforts to keep themselves in power and lack sufficient enforcement powers to discipline or centralise rent seeking. To varying degrees, these political pressures have been felt by the three case-study organisations, especially the Treasury. That said, other factors have helped to maintain some degree of autonomy for these organisations (even if the extent of their autonomy has varied significantly, both between the organisations and within the same organisations over time). These include organisational-level factors, such as the extent of each organisation’s formal autonomy, as well as, more informally, the nature and embeddedness of its leadership. Transnational factors have also been important, notably the extent to which these organisations have been subject to the disciplinary logics of global neoliberalism. Finally, ideational factors have helped to buttress the autonomy of these organisations, at least during particular periods, as policy coalitions composed of politicians and technocrats (drawing on, but not beholden to, donor support) have occasionally come together around shared developmental ideas to try and protect these organisations – and the economic technocracy generally – from the more corrosive pressures generated by Kenya’s political settlement.